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Licensed to smoke

By Michael Lardelli - posted Friday, 26 November 2010

Smoking is a scourge on our society. People who smoke face a higher risk of many forms of cancer and, of course, especially lung cancer. They also have a higher risk of other diseases such as cardiovascular disease and can also look forward to emphysema in their later years when they become a burden on our society’s health services.

Possibly the greatest tragedy of smoking is that, for all the damage it does to smokers and our society, it usually provides little pleasure to smokers other than the absence of the nausea brought on by failing to smoke. It is an addiction plain and simple that costs smokers a small fortune to maintain each year. A pack of 20 cigarettes can vary widely in price but most "pack-a-day" smokers in Australia would currently be paying well over $10 per day to support their habit. Over one year this amounts to close to $4000. This is a sizeable proportion of the money they might otherwise spend on food or clothing etc. and is enough for multiple holidays in Bali or even farther afield!

It is a measure of the addictive power of tobacco that smokers continue with something that provides so little pleasure and costs so much. Little wonder then that most smokers would rather not be smoking. A recent poll in the USA showed that 74% of smokers would rather not.


Millions of dollars are spent on advertising campaigns to stop people smoking but the rate of smoking in our society is falling only slowly. About half as many people smoke today as did 30 years ago but that still means that roughly one in seven people smoke. But there is a simple way to all but eradicate smoking in our society within a generation and to prevent our children becoming addicted. It is described below and the only puzzle to me is why this obvious scheme has not already been instituted.

Eradicate smoking in Australia

A simple way to eradicate smoking in our society within a generation would be to announce that from January 1, 2012 people will need to hold a license to purchase tobacco products. Invite all current smokers to obtain a free, lifetime tobacco purchasing license through the motor registry (since they are set up to provide licences to motorists) and inform the community that, after January 1, 2012 no further licenses will ever be issued to current residents of Australia.

The license should be a form of photo-identification very similar to a driver's license. Foreign tourists would still be allowed to purchase tobacco using a foreign passport for identification or special smokers' visas could be issued. People immigrating to Australia could be allowed to apply for a license and smoking status could even become part of the points system for people applying to immigrate.

The advantages of this system would be:

  1. Nobody would be forced to stop smoking, but
  2. Smoking in our society would be all but eradicated within about 20 years
  3. Since there would be no immediate, rapid drop-off in tobacco sales governments would be slowly weaned off this tax revenue and tobacco retailers would have time to diversity away from this area
  4. There would be no need to restrict tobacco advertising
  5. Anti-smoking advertising would still be useful to help current smokers quit but we would see no young people starting to smoke.
  6. People trying to give up smoking could voluntarily give up their tobacco purchasing license (if they wished) as an added "incentive" to help them to quit.



This is a completely simple and effective scheme to stop the deadly practice of smoking. I would go so far as to say that any government that does not consider this scheme seriously is not really serious about preventing deaths from tobacco use.

One argument that someone I spoke to used against this idea was that it could not be done "because if it was done for tobacco it would then have to be done for alcohol use". This is not true because:

  1. People can take up alcohol use at any age but very few people take up smoking in later adulthood. If you stop them starting to smoke when they are young they do not demand it later.
  2. Smoking provides little pleasure to addicts other than the absence of nausea whereas alcohol use does provide change in consciousness.
  3. Alcohol is easy to produce/procure outside of retail outlets and there would always be demand for this but there would be little demand for illegal (and more difficult) tobacco procurement from people who smoke without a license.
  4. Alcohol use, while responsible for a large amount of ill-health and damage to Australian society is, nevertheless, less likely to result in death than smoking.

So lets protect our children by licensing tobacco purchases. Send this idea to your local politician and see if we can convince them to promote this easy route to a healthier Australia.

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About the Author

Michael Lardelli is Senior Lecturer in Genetics at The University of Adelaide. Since 2004 he has been an activist for spreading awareness on the impact of energy decline resulting from oil depletion. He has written numerous articles on the topic published in The Adelaide Review and elsewhere, has delivered ABC Radio National Perspectives, spoken at events organised by the South Australian Department of Trade and Economic Development and edits the (subscription only) Beyond Oil SA email newsletter. He has lectured on "peak oil" to students in the Australian School of Petroleum.

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